As part of our Stories from the Front Lines series, Restaurant Hospitality reached out to restaurateurs to share their experiences during the coronavirus crisis. John Winterman, former general manager and partner at Bâtard in New York City, is now working on opening the new concept Francie in Brooklyn, N.Y. Here is his story.
Today [April 6] was the day our managers were supposed to start. May 12 was going to be the soft opening of Francie, our new restaurant in Brooklyn, and we had our core team coming on to help us ramp up to a splashy opening.
However, as New York City began to shut down on March 12, we had to adjust our expectations to match a new reality.
We counted ourselves lucky as we were still 10 weeks away from opening. Construction was ongoing and was considered “essential” business. Everything was in motion, under construction, ordered, planned, scheduled for delivery; we could ride this out. When Gov. Andrew Cuomo shut down all the restaurants, we had just posted job openings.
Our contractor was able to continue working, and we were able to keep a positive outlook on the future. Though to be honest, in the wake of the shutdown of an entire industry and the subsequent laying-off of thousands and thousands of workers, construction seemed not so essential anymore.
And then it happened: Construction stopped, everywhere.
My partner Chris Cipollone and I are fortunate in that we did not have a staff or payroll, we weren’t sitting on inventory or dealing with an unscrupulous landlord. (Our landlord is quite nice, actually). The timing is something we are silently thankful for — earlier delays that pushed the opening into deep spring. We can’t imagine what it would have been like to have just opened. And we don’t need to imagine; we have friends who are walking through that lonesome valley right now, and our hearts hurt for them.
Uncertainty is the overall theme as information changes fast and often, but we are able to plan accordingly, and we still have time on our side. We are able to model different scenarios on when we can (hopefully) open. Chris and I, for the foreseeable future, have a life raft in a sea of tragedy, and we recognise that fact with humility. Inconvenience is what we are dealing with at the moment, and uncertainty, and we know with painful clarity that our friends and colleagues are dealing with much, much more.